FILM REVIEW: To Rome with Love
Judy Davis, left, Woody Allen and Alison Pill in a scene from the ensemble romantic comedy To Rome with Love. (Philippe Antonello/Sony Pictures Classics)
There's something comforting about sitting down to watch the latest instalment from Woody Allen.
His opening titles tend to start with a musical flourish. In the case of To Rome with Love, we're serenaded by the classic Italian love song Volare. Then, we're on the sun-kissed streets of Rome. In a busy intersection, a traffic cop turns to the camera and says "I'm from Roma. My job is to stand up here and I see all people. In Roma, all is a story."
Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg become involved in Woody Allen's To Rome with Love. (Philippe Antonello/Sony Pictures Classics)
Sure, it's a little old-fashioned, but it's also unabashedly sweet. As the setting and music swirl together, you feel your spine loosening a little.
It's alright. You're with Allen now and, at the age of 76, he's going to make the movie he wants. No one is whispering in his ear about enchanted amulets or giant robots. Instead, it's back to a familiar well for another collection of stories about love, loyalty and art.
To Rome with Love continues the famed New Yorker's extended European vacation. First there was Barcelona, then London, followed by Paris. Now, we're in Rome playing another round of "Who's Woody?" as we guess which actor has been anointed the nebbish director's stand-in. This time, with multiple story lines, we get a four-for-one deal.
First, there's Jesse Eisenberg, as a jittery architect torn between two women. We also see Roberto Benigni as an Italian Woody. And for the first time in half a decade, we get Woody as Woody -- or, more specifically, a theatre director named Jerry, but it's not much of a stretch.
Of To Rome's four tales, two are love stories. One follows an Italian country boy tempted by a luscious and in-demand call girl (Penelope Cruz). Then, there is Eisenberg's story. He's a man who falls for his girlfriend's roommate, Monica, played by Ellen Page.
Only Allen could get away with putting lines like: "I always had a little yen for sleeping with a woman" into Page's mouth.
Sadly, as amusing as his recent films have been, Allen's blind spot continues to be his female characters. The roles in To Rome range from vixen (Cruz) to pixie (Page and Alison Pill). Once again, his endearing dorks are besieged by beguiling beauties -- oh, those poor schmucks.
Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page and Jesse Eisenberg appear together in To Rome with Love. (Philippe Antonello/Sony Pictures Classics)
Luckily, To Rome With Love shows us Allen still has a couple of tricks up his sleeve. Watch the way he makes use of Alec Baldwin, playing an established architect Eisenberg's character admires.
In the beginning, Baldwin is simply a house guest dropping by for an espresso. Soon, however, the situation becomes something more nebulous: he's an invisible friend, perched in the background second-guessing Monica's motives. It's like having an onscreen narrator who never leaves and it's an interesting twist that could only come from a person steeped in a love of cinema.
Roberto Benigni as Leopoldo in To Rome with Love. (Philippe Antonello/Sony Pictures Classics)
Rather than his riffs on seduction and betrayal, the two stories I enjoyed the most were those imbued with a whiff of the absurd.
Take, for instance, poor Leopoldo (Benigni), a Roman civil servant who becomes famous for nothing. Cameras greet him in the morning for live news specials on how he butters his bread. It's a none-too-subtle knock against our celebrity-obsessed age from a director who prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
For his own appearance, Allen offers a loopy bit of fluff. His retired theatre director Jerry discovers a wonderful new voice... but the man can only perform in the shower. I'll never understand why Allen chose to cast himself as a right-wing, union-hating reactionary, but the payoff he delivers when the sudsy singer finally steps into the spotlight is more than worth it.
RATING: 3 out of 5
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